These Are the 8 Grossest Spots at a Shopping Mall, According to Experts

Before you shop, get acquainted with the nasty areas to avoid at the mall. And don't forget the hand sanitizer!

Sure, online shopping is great, but there's something satisfying about buying things the old-fashioned way—you know, in an actual store at the mall. But malls mean people, and people mean germslots of germs. And since we don't think you should have to get sick just because you prefer to get your goods at a brick-and-mortar store, we turned to the experts to find out the grossest spots—and items—at the mall. Warning: You'll never look at a toy store the same way!

ATMs and elevator buttons

young woman at the atm

According to a 2011 study conducted by antimicrobial technology supplier BioCote, the keypads on those convenient—but apparently very gross—cash-dispensing kiosks are dirtier than a public toilet seat. "That's no surprise given that they get touched by hundreds of—probably unwashed—hands every day," explains Harriet Jones, a cleaning supervisor at Go Cleaners London. The study found that ATM buttons contain concerning bacteria called pseudomonads and bacillus, which can cause diarrhea and other illnesses.

The same bacteria, perhaps unsurprisingly, have been found on elevator buttons, which is why Jones suggests selecting your floor with your knuckles instead of your fingertips. "That way it lowers the chance of bacteria ending up in your nose or mouth," she says.

Escalator handrails

person holding onto escalator handrail

The escalator handrails at your local mall are also touched by countless pairs of dirty hands on a daily basis—maybe even more so than ATMs, suggests Jones. "It makes sense that they are covered with gross stuff like E. coli, urine, mucus, blood, and feces," she says. It's best to avoid touching these handrails at all costs, but if you can't, "wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as soon as you can," Jones says.

Makeup samples

womans hand pulling out a lipstick from makeup stand

If you're drawn to makeup counters in mall department stores, you've probably taken advantage of the communal free samples to try out a new lipstick or mascara. But you might want to think twice the next time you have the urge to give yourself a free makeover. "You can catch the herpes simplex virus from an inanimate object such as lipstick," Whitney Bowe, MD, a New York-based dermatologist, told NBC News. "In fact, that virus can survive on the surface of a lipstick tube for up to a week."

And it's more than just the herpes simplex virus lurking on makeup testers. An investigation by the Rossen Reports team at NBC News revealed that some makeup sample products were contaminated with E. coli and Klebsiella pneumoniae, two types of bacteria associated with feces and typically found in the intestinal tract.

Food court tables

Interior of white table and wooden table on food court in shopping mall

You might assume that the tables you're expected to eat off of at the mall would be pretty clean—but you know what they say about assumptions. Even if you see someone wiping the table down, don't count on it being germ-free. "The rags themselves can actually spread harmful bacteria such as E. coli if they are not changed and washed regularly," Elaine Larson, PhD, Senior Associate Dean of Scholarship and Research at Columbia University's School of Nursing, told CBS News. If you plan on eating at the food court, it's a good idea to bring your own anti-bacterial wipes to clean off your table before you dine.

Toy stores

interior of a toy store

It's no secret that kids are pretty much walking magnets for germs. And if you've ever taken a child to a toy store, you know that if something is within their reach, they are going to grab it. Knowing that, along with the fact that most kids probably haven't mastered good hygiene practices, you'd better believe those toys are riddled with bacteria. "Kids lick toys, roll them on their heads, and rub them on their faces," Philip Tierno, PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University Langone Medical Center, told CBS News. "All that leaves a plethora of germs on the toys."

Movie theaters

people buying tickets at the movie theater

One of the perks of taking a trip to the mall is that many of them have a movie theatre, making it easy to catch a flick when you need a break from all that shopping. If you're not careful, however, the latest box office hit might not be the only thing you catch. "During cold and flu season, many people don't cover their mouths properly and will cough and sneeze into the atmosphere in which we breathe," says Michael Hall, MD, founder of the Hall Longevity Clinic. "Influenza A and B, which can both lead to the flu, can become airborne through particles in the atmosphere, lingering in plumes that you can easily walk through and cause you to become infected without even knowing it."


front view of public toilets

We all know bathrooms can get pretty gross, and the ones found in malls are no exception, says Daneille DonDiego, MD, a physician at Your Doctors Online. So what's in there? Apparently quite a bit, according to a 2014 study published by Applied and Environmental Microbiology. For starters, skin-associated bacteria were found on areas often touched by the hands, including doors, stalls, faucets, and soap dispensers. In addition, gut-associated bacteria Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes were found on toilet seats, likely as a result of fecal contamination. Finally, as if all that weren't enough, Lactobacillus—bacteria associated with the vaginal microbiome—were found in women's restrooms. So, what's the lesson here? Never forget to wash your hands.


money and dollars in cash

The mere act of making a purchase at the mall can expose you to more germs than you can shake a stick at—especially if you're paying with cold, hard cash. "Cash and coins are known to carry the flu virus and Staphylococcus," says Jones, the latter referring to the bacteria that cause food poisoning and other infections, according to the Mayo Clinic. She notes the bacteria "can survive on their surfaces for over two weeks." So, just how much nastiness are we talking about? Well, according to Jones, "money is found to have more bacteria than a toilet seat, which says a lot."

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